I had no idea how much pain I was putting myself through until I became a therapist and learned about negative self-talk. It’s our everyday practice of engaging in an internal dialogue with ourselves and oftentimes, the messages are brutal. In Psychology Today, Raj Raghunathan Ph.D. noted that up to 70% of our thoughts are negative, even if we hold ourselves in high regard. We can be our toughest critics, our worst enemies. We can be the source of our own pain. Hurtful things I’ve said to myself and have been common in my clients sounded like:
- “That person ignored me, so something must be wrong with me.”
- “I look terrible in this outfit!”
- “Why doesn’t anyone like me?”
- “I wish I could do that better. I suck.”
I spent every day unknowingly looking at what was wrong with me. It took years of seeing my own therapist to help me process childhood trauma which brought attention to my pessimistic point of view. I needed to make a significant change. My mental health depended on it. Over time, I’ve found a few things to be very helpful on my journey. I shared them with clients who reported favorable results. Here are 4 ways to challenge your negative mind and live your best life.
1. Slow down to create space for rational moments.
Once negative thoughts enter our minds, we tend to grab on tight and ride the emotional roller coaster. Yes, you may have seen an extra wrinkle on your face this week. No, that person never called you back. Sure, that project may not have been your best work. Did you know you can stop your negative self-talk in its tracks? Before you’re deep in the rabbit hole, create space for yourself to think through your thoughts.
The space we create can look different for each of us. The point is to find a method that works for you. You’re looking for the conditions that are going to help you slow down, get out of the spiral, and be able to say or write what’s happening. If you interrupt your spiral, you’re in a much better position to disrupt your pattern and challenge irrational thoughts.
2. Find your sounding board.
Sometimes we just need to hear things from someone else. I know I have three or four close family members/friends who I can call when I am having trouble getting out of my rut. They’re able to call me to return the favor. It can be very comforting and reassuring to hear words of encouragement from people who are dear to our hearts. Make a pact with those select few so they understand that you need to rely on them to pick you up when you are down. Who else should fight your negative conscience but your army of loved ones?! Don’t be afraid to be specific about the type of support you need when you are up against your inner critic. Give them the tools they need to be there for you in the best way possible.
3. Prepare for the worst.
In preparation for the bad mood blues, make it almost impossible for a full blown takeover. Put some time aside to make a list of 15-20 things you could do when you are low. Think about yourself in a negative frame of mind when writing the list. The items on the list should be things that can be realistically carried out. Make sure they are fun and/or productive! Make a promise to yourself that you WILL complete at least one of the items when you hit a low point. Not only will you be doing something worthwhile, you just might experience feelings of accomplishment, which guess what… boosts your mood! These would be great to share with your loved ones who are part of your sounding board.
4. Practice self-compassion.
I was guided through a meditation once and the instructor used a phrase that I never forgot: “we must have self-compassion for our process and our pain.” It normalized how hard the healing journey can be. That quote has been posted on my wall for over a year and isn’t going anywhere. It is a constant reminder that even when I am feeling low, I am still healing. I will be ok. The same is true for you.
Give yourself compassion. Give your process and pain compassion. You are undoing years of patterned negative thinking so don’t expect to change your internal dialogue overnight. Stick with it and remember that you deserve to know how it feels to speak lovingly to yourself.